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  • I'm not sure what Diane Silver was thinking when she was making this movie, but it obviously had nothing to do with Richard Wright's novel, which the movie is based on.

    We read the novel this past summer for AP English 12, and just watched the film. During periodic note-taking and checking of the clock, I contemplated the chances of being struck by lightning. Of course, the sky was completely clear, and I was forced to watch the rest of the movie... and then write a 5-paragraph essay on it.

    Wright's novel discussed very real themes, of the mind of a killer and the psychology behind it. Silver's movie turned a murderer into a victim, which is NOT what Wright wanted (see: "How Bigger was Born" 454).

    I'm going to make this short and sweet: if you want to leave your consciousness, in Raphael Lambert's words, unsullied, skip the movie and read the book. The 1986 adaptation is not thought-provoking material.

    ... ::sigh:: Now I have to write the essay.
  • Few movies ever measure up to the books they're based on, and sometimes the only safe way to judge a literary adaptation is on its own terms, as if the source material never existed. Which makes the screen version of Richard Wright's celebrated novel — faithfully set in 1940 Chicago — a curiously dated social artifact. It demands a little mental arithmetic to update the story, about an angry young ghetto black who, in a moment of fear and desperation, accidentally suffocates the daughter of the wealthy, white family for whom he works as a servant. The issues of black and white are rightfully shown to be shaded with gray, but the production may be too slick for its own good. The film might have worked better had it been more harsh and controversial, more willing to disturb the complacency of self-satisfied viewers who, like Elizabeth McGovern's character, seek to prove their open-minded color blindness by their condescending ignorance of the wide gulf separating the two races. A talented, high profile cast is enough reason to recommend the film.
  • Synopsis: A young black man from the poor streets of Chicago, gets the opportunity of a lifetime working as a chauffer for a wealthy family. But in an effort not to jeopardize his first day on the job, something goes horribly wrong leaving him responsible for a murder.

    The Review: Richard Wright's novel is an intense depiction of one man, trying to protect and better himself, whose own self is unwillfully brought into something he just gets into deeper. The book itself is five hundred pages and broken down into three separate novellas. One chunk of the book is exclusively devoted to a lawyer's speech about racism, that was completely excised from the film. The film, in a manner of speaking, is relatively different because it's compressed all the information. The film lacks the spark the book had as well as the impact. Not much sympathy can be said for any of the characters because their development just isn't strong enough. It's a distorted film that doesn't have any strengths to it, and the climax at the end, is really broken down to nothing more than just a series of edited scenes and voiceovers. If you love the novel, and want to see the film, just stick with the novel, because they simply aren't the same. Grade: C-
  • This was a good film. It had some flaws, but was well worth a viewing. It takes on many issues which most current films gloss over or ignore entirely.

    This is the second film of "Native Son," a Richard Wright book about a young black man who gets caught up in some tragic events in 1940's Chicago. Bigger Thomas, the young protagonist, goes to work for a wealthy white family after some prodding from his mother, played by Oprah Winfrey. He is drawn into the aforementioned events by the family's young and slightly wild daughter, played by Elizabeth McGovern.

    There are several good scenes where the tension and a sense of claustrophobia is palpable. A scene near the end in a police station, in which all the main characters convene around Bigger, is effective but problematic. This scene is overwrought and unrealistic - there is no way all those people would be in the same room at once.

    "Native Son" delves into the issues of racism, poverty and integration. It doesn't have easy answers for the audience, but rather leaves the questions out there for the viewer to ponder.
  • vchimpanzee18 April 2004
    Bigger is a teenager who is so poor he and his mother must share a bedroom in an apartment that appears to be falling apart, and they don't have enough money to eat well. When they get out of bed, two other hidden children pop up from under the covers--Bigger's sister sleeps with her mother, and his brother sleeps with him, and the males must turn around while the females get dressed. To improve their situation, Bigger's mother knows of a great opportunity for him and hopes he will finally get a job he can hold on to. If he doesn't, things could be even worse (at least they HAVE a home now).

    Bigger goes to be with his friends when he should be interviewing for the job. He lets them know he will NOT work for the white man. Yet he does finally show up at the home of a rich family, and immediately turns into what his friends would likely call an Uncle Tom--not Stepin Fetchit, but respectful and polite.

    Everything appears to be going well for a while, but then something quite terrible changes the situation drastically.

    Oprah Winfrey came across quite convincingly as a poor black mother. This was in the days before she became a superstar talk show host. I won't say it's too bad she was successful in her best-known career, because she did so much good, but she could have been quite a fine actress. Victor Love was good as Bigger, primarily because Bigger had to be so convincing in order to keep his job. A great performance came from John Karlen as a defense lawyer (yes, someone needed a lawyer).

    This was an African Heritage Network Monthly Movie Classic. It wasn't as good as some movies selected for this honor, but it was pretty good.
  • Having been on set a few days I can say the acting overall was very good. A good early dramatic performance by Oprah. (Hint: She get's in a funky blue mood by singing spirituals offstage between takes) And a very impressive performance by Victor Love. Since everybody was working for scale all the names were to be listed and evenly credited.

    Question: Who played Oprah's daughter? Diamond Dawn Cook (AKA: AdrienneCook) That's not in the IMDb database.

    I was also impressed by the rat wrangler. Who knew so much effort went into that one scene. One rat to skitter across the floor. One to cower in the corner. And one killed, though not really with a frying pan.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Of all the movies I've seen, this one rates almost at the bottom (Haunted Mansion, Nothing but Trouble and a few others keep it from reaching rock bottom.) It is hasty, the story is shaky and the events depicted are poorly acted. Of course we have to lay some of this at the book writer's door. The book the movie was filmed after is outrageously ponderous, and illogical. Oprah gives a palatable appearance as "Bigger's" mom, but is not nearly at her potential. Other famous performers also seem to be at their worst. The plot which centers around an African American who decided to take a job as a chauffeur. In driving the family daughter to a communist dinner he becomes acquainted. One thing leads to another and the girl gets drunk. Now the family he's working for are not against blacks, but he thinks they are. So when he comes home he puts her to bed, but she begins caterwauling. The blind mother (yes) hears this, so Bigger tries to silence her, but instead smothers her. Now fearing he's really in trouble for killing a white girl he does what any logical thinking man would do--he shoves her into the coal furnace. So investigators are carrying out a missing person case and lo they check the furnace (the idiot didn't have the foresight to get rid of the ashes. He is then arrested and the last hour or so are obnoxious segments from the courtroom. If your desperate for a bad movie, this one could do the job, but if you seriously want to learn about culture issues in th 40's and 50's or see a good drama, there are a lot better options. Avoid this.
  • I read Native Son as a teen and again about four years ago as an adult. I had really mixed feelings about Bigger Thomas with an inclination towards hating him. The way the movie depicts him my feelings about him aren't very mixed--I don't like Bigger.

    Bigger is an angry reckless young man. The movie can't get into his head like the book can but truthfully, there was no real justification for his immense anger and reckless behavior.

    As a production this movie didn't quite fit the bill. The sound quality was bad which made the acting itself seem worse than what it really was. The movie speed wasn't good either. Everything was accelerated with no good transitions from scene to scene. I knew what was going on and why because I read the book, but without that knowledge I may have been lost watching the movie.

    I don't want to dump on the movie too much because I can tell it was a low budget production and they probably did the best they could. It's noteworthy that they landed Matt Dillon and Oprah Winfrey. Even Shavar Ross (prominently known as Dudley from Diff'rent Strokes) was something of a known name at that time.

    I think that Native Son deserves a better production than it got. I see that there was a 2019 release of Native Son. Hopefully it is better.
  • Hey look, deal with it, there are much better portrayals of the hardship of black America than this. Although I think this story is weak, my criticism is focused on the poor execution of the story, which I have mentioned, blows.

    This was made in the mid-80's and is horrible in the music/score department. It's funny to see Oprah as a latter-day crack-whore type.

    The scene where Bigger stuffs Elizabeth McGovern into the incinerator. Pure classic cinema. First off, I don't care how drunk you are, you will react to 1200F degree flame (no matter how bad your acting). But they really milked that scene...it was comical. I'll tell you what though, I had great satisfaction in seeing Elizabeth McGovern burn in a faux death; she annoys me.